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About the Program

Mission Statement

Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences studies the physical, chemical, and biological processes that affect the composition and dynamics of the atmosphere. Research is directly linked to an undergraduate and graduate program that provides a fundamental understanding of the atmosphere, and opportunities for applied research, theoretical research, and technical training to prepare students for careers in meteorology, atmospheric science, remote sensing and environmental technology.


The Institute of Atmospheric Sciences of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology was organized in 1959 to conduct atmospheric research with emphasis upon weather modification.. In 1965 an academic Department of Meteorology was formed to offer an M.S. degree in meteorology. Graduate research assistants in this degree program worked on Institute research projects. Later, members of the Institute, working together, evolved an integrated approach to a variety of research areas in the atmospheric sciences.

In 2012, the Institute transitioned from being a research organization largely dependent on external grants and contracts for support, to a tenure-track Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences. Research scientists became tenure-track  faculty members, however, this did not end the research work that this group was well-known for, both nationally and internationally. Faculty continue to conduct research work in many areas of the atmospheric sciences that enables them to contribute to new understanding of atmospheric phenomena and support graduate research assistants. In 2013, the Department name was broadened to Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Science, to embrace the expanding focus of the program. More changes arrived in the spring of 2014 when the Department transitioned into the Program in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences. All degree programs (B.S., M.S., and Ph.D.) have all been retained during this last transition.

Current research areas include observational studies of thunderstorms and hailstorms; applications of weather radar data to remote inference of cloud microphysical characteristics and rainfall measurements; numerical weather prediction and forecast assessment; fire weather prediction and modeling; land-surface/atmosphere exchange processes; biogeochemical cycling; stream and wetland ecosystems; regional climate modeling; and meteorological information and visualization technologies.

In addition, a new storm penetrating platform is being developed to replace the former SDSMT T-28 research aircraft, retired in 2004 after 35 years of service. In 2011, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the Center for Interdisciplinary Remotely Piloted Aircraft Studies (CIRPAS) at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California to requisition a Fairchild A-10 from the Air Force. The aircraft is currently being refurbished for its new duties as a storm-penetrating aircraft. Several SDSMT staff and two graduate students are taking part in the preparation of this research platform, and will collaborate with CIRPAS to operate the aircraft as a national facility in support of national and international storm research projects. It is anticipated that the plane will be ready for active research missions in 2014.


  • A10 Storm Penetrating Aircraft

Since the retirement of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT) storm-penetrating T-28 research aircraft in 2004, the national and international storm research communities have been without means of obtaining in-situ measurements of thunderstorm processes. In 2010 the National Science Foundation (NSF) took steps to remedy this. The NSF funded the Center for Interdisciplinary Remotely Piloted Aircraft Studies (CIRPAS) at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, to requisition a Fairchild A-10 from the US Air Force. A year later, the USAF agreed to lend a mothballed A-10 to the US Navy. The NSF funds provided to CIRPAS will cover regeneration, reinforcement for storm penetration, and instrumentation for scientific research. Paul Smith, Andy Detwiler, Donna Kliche, and other scientists and graduate research assistants at SDSM&T, will collaborate with CIRPAS to operate the aircraft as a national facility in support of national and international storm research projects. To view the website for the A10 facility, please go to:

  • Instrumentation and Computing

The department has recently acquired a set of research-grade portable surface weather observing stations that measure temperature, moisture, pressure, solar radiation, wind speed and wind direction.  One of the stations also includes a tipping bucket rain gauge to measure rainfall.  These stations provide students with hands-on experience collecting and analyzing weather data and can be deployed to study mesoscale weather patterns in the Black Hills region.

The atmospheric sciences department has a long history of numerical modeling expertise.  To this end, we maintain a fleet of high-performance computing platforms capable of running state-of-the art numerical weather prediction models such as the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research.  This includes a high resolution forecast version of the WRF model being run in real-time for the Black Hills region in western South Dakota and versions of WRF adapted for regional climate and coupled hydrologic modeling.  Additionally, the department has a Unix computer lab for student use, access to University of Colorado and NCAR supercomputing resources in collaboration with the USGS, a RAID server for data storage and access to an LDM data feed that brings in real-time weather data from the National Weather Service for forecasting and research use.

  • Laboratory facilities

The Program in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at SDSM&T has state of the art laboratory facilities to analyze key constituents of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. For example, the Biogeochemistry Core Facility, made possible by a recent grant from the National Science Foundation and housed in the department, is an analytical and research laboratory facility shared by Atmospheric Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering. Additional laboratory facilities  focus on measurements of atmospheric constituents that have the potential to affect the radiation and the oxidant balance of the earth system.


Funding for the many projects conducted by the department's research staff over the years has totaled more than $30,000,000 and has come from the State of South Dakota, private sources, the Old West Regional Commission, the North Dakota Atmospheric Resource Board and agencies in other states, the World Meteorological Organization, and a number of agencies of the U.S. Government. The federal agencies which have sponsored projects are the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Interior, National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

History of IAS

(Page updated 12/12/2013)



 Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology * 501 East Saint Joseph Street * Rapid City, SD 57701

Office: (605) 394-1994


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